Self-determination, otherness and subjectivities: Constructing Qatari national identity in a period of reform

By Erick Viramontes
Submitted to Session P4989 (States and Identities in the Oil-Rich Arab World, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Cultural Studies; Gulf Studies; Identity/Representation; Nationalism;
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Drawing on the postcolonial critique of the nation as a discourse through which forces of domination and entrenched power relations are sustained and reproduced (Chatterjee 1986, 1993; Mufti, Shohat and McClintock 1991; Yuval-Davis 1997), in this paper I discuss the construction of national identity in contemporary Qatar by looking into several sites of cultural production controlled by the state. I argue that the most creative and disciplining potential of Qatari national identity is found at the intersection of three critical themes for the construction of the modern nation, namely: the struggle to attain national self-determination, the construction of “the other,” and the conception of the national subject and its duties with the nation.
In addition to extensive digital archival research, this paper is based on four months of fieldwork in Doha, Qatar. During this period and through several tools of social inquiry, such as participant observation and semi-structured interviews, I approached some state-controlled sites of cultural production that have become critical for the construction of national identity in Qatar, such as museums and sites of cultural heritage that fall under the authority of Qatar Museums. I also approached national celebrations and commemorations, such as Qatar’s National Day and the National Sports Day. Access to these sites provided me with a representative account of the state-sponsored discourse on national identity, which has become a cornerstone in the new vision for the country after the coming to power of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in 1995.
This paper is part of a broader engagement with the phenomenon of nationalism in the Middle East that, calling into question essentialist notions of national identity, opens the possibility to discuss the power relations reproduced by the discourse on the nation, and to highlight the violent implications posed by the reification of national identities, especially during periods of national liberation and top-down reform (Jankowski and Gershoni 1997; Gelvin 1999; Cole and Kandiyoti 2002; Göçek 2002; Zubaida 2002). This paper expands these scholarly debates to the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council by looking into the subject of national identity in Qatar, a country that has been relatively absent in the scholarly debates on nationalism in the Gulf, both at the regional (Dresch and Piscatori 2005, Alsharekh and Springborg 2008, Patrick 2009) and individual case-study levels (Koch 2015 for UAE; Longva 2006 for Kuwait; and Nevo 1998 for Saudi Arabia).